Growing up, my favourite story was “the gingerbread man.” I would insist that my mother read the tale to me every night before bed. The story of an anthropomorphic cookie fleeing from various pursuers coupled with my mother’s measured delivery was a delight to a young me. To this day, I still get a twinge of joy whenever “run, run, as fast as you can” is said aloud. While I appreciated the fantasy of the tale, it was its’ familiarity, coupled with the repetition of the telling, that would eventually lull me off to sleep.
Fable II reminds me of my gingerbread man childhood memories. For all of Lionhead Studio’s attempts to make an open-world fantasy experience, ultimately it feels like a linear tale that works better as a bedtime story than a gaming experience.
Peter Molyneux, lead designer in the Fable series, promised the world in the first Fable game. While Fable was a fun experience, it failed to match the hype that had been laid down prior to the game’s release. Molyneux promised to rectify this with the second game and in many ways accomplished this feat. The narration and art direction makes the game feel like a living fairly tale. All of the characters are voice acted (with British accents) which brings personality and a certain vibrancy to the game itself. The art style is straight out of a fairy tale with people represented in a somewhat cartoony aesthetic. The camera is in constant soft focus and as such surfaces shimmer, water gleams, and sunsets are picturesque. It feels like a living picture book.
Fable II works hard to imbue itself with a sense of freedom. The player is free to marry off to whomever (and as many times) they please, wear various outfits, work odd jobs, take up side quests, and converse with the numerous colourful NPCS. The combat system also allows for robust customization. Players can build skills in magic, sword combat, gun slinging or a combination of all three and their choices will affect the character’s outward appearance. Magic users, for examples, will develop a blue glow around their characters. All this customization is a nice distraction, however, the very linear main quest always lurks in the background.
Unlike many other RPG’s, the game supplies a helpful breadcrumb feature that will lead the player to their next objective. An unfortunate side affect is that the sense of exploration is curtailed. Players will spend the majority of their time following breadcrumb from location to location, mindlessly moving from story event to story event.
That’s kinda the problem with Fable II. The story is typical RPG fare (save the cheerleader, save the world) and just goes on and on and, despite the distractions of a wife and odd jobs, the story hook just isn’t strong enough to pull you through to the end.
The dilemma with recreating a fairytale is that they’re pretty, comfortable and familiar but ultimately, they’ll just end up putting you to sleep.